India: Pastor says life becoming 'far more difficult' for Christians amid escalating persecution

Demonstrators shout slogans as they hold placards during a protest outside a church in New Delhi, India, February 5, 2015. Hundreds of Christian protesters clashed with police in India's capital on Thursday as they tried to press demands for better government protection amid concern about rising intolerance after a series of attacks on churches. | (Photo: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee)

A pastor in India has opened up about the deteriorating state of religious freedom in the country, revealing things are becoming “far more difficult” for Christians who almost daily encounter persecution for their faith. 

“Things have become far more difficult for pastors like me,” Pastor Ramesh Kumar, a church planter who leads house churches in 12 villages outside of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, told persecution watchdog International Christian Concern. “Almost daily, I encounter a situation where I am asked to stop preaching the Gospel and recant my faith in Jesus.”

Pastor Kumar described several incidents of persecution he has experienced over the last several weeks. “Some days, it is only a mild warning,” he said, but “other times, it turns into a frightening physical assault.”

On March 16, the pastor was about to leave his home when four people showed up at his door. What started as a civil conversation quickly turned volatile after the pastor revealed he “preaches Jesus to people who want to hear.”

“When the four men asked if I receive money for converting people, I immediately sensed the trouble was going beyond my control,” he recalled. “I immediately called my landlord, who is a Hindu, and he came to my rescue. He dispersed the four men by explaining that I am not doing any harm to anyone.”

The pastor uses a bicycle to shuttle between villages to conduct prayers, lead Bible studies and various Sunday worship services, and share the Gospel message with people he meets along the road. He described a recent incident where one of his house churches was almost shut down.

“It was around noon after I had completed Sunday worship in Puran Patti village,” he recalled. “Suddenly, a four-wheel vehicle full of young men stopped in front of the church. These young men entered the church shouting anti-Christian slogans and started to hurl abuses at the Christians who had gathered.”

“After an hour of intense abuse, the Hindu radicals locked and sealed the door of the church. They told my congregation and me that we were no longer allowed to assemble in the church.

“It was a very painful thing for my congregation and me. However, we took the matter to the village president. He came to the church and opened the locked doors. According to the village president, the people who attacked the church were outsiders, and the village president knew we were not harming anyone by holding worship in the church.”

Despite the persecution he continues to face, the pastor stressed that “God has been very faithful.”

“I am not going to stop witnessing and will continue to serve Jesus even though things are not favorable at the moment," he said.

“I do get worried every day when I go out. But I do know that God will help me.”

According to Persecution Relief, which tracks anti-Christian persecution and harassment in India, crimes against Christians in India increased 60 percent between 2016 and 2019. The majority of these incidents have happened in Uttar Pradesh.

Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India, with nearly 200 million people. However, only about 350,000 Christians live in the state. According to reports, police in the state have worked in tandem with Hindu extremists to mistreat Christians and other religious minorities.

Illegal arrests and false criminal charges are among the most common forms of police harassment endured by Christians in Uttar Pradesh.

In February, leaders of the Hindu nationalist group Vishwa Hindu Parishad held a press conference claiming they identified 30 locations in India’s Uttar Pradesh state where religious conversions were taking place, notes ICC. The VHP leaders vowed to end these “forced” conversions in a door to door “Ghar Wapsi” campaign.

As part of “Ghar Wapsi,” or “back to home” campaigns, Hindu extremists storm into villages and lead “reconversion” ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.

Since this announcement, attacks on Christians and their places of worship in Uttar Pradesh have “skyrocketed,” according to ICC, which notes that almost every weekend since the press conference, it has received reports of Christians in Uttar Pradesh facing intimidation, harassment, arrest or assault.

India is ranked 10th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. 

According to the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, which has been documenting incidents of persecution against Christians since 1998, incidents targeting Indian Christians have risen steeply since 2014, when Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.

In 2019 alone, the EFI documented at least 366 violent attacks on Christians and their places of worship in India. 

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